Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Campaigns I Have Played

Here's a little teaser for a reoccurring series of posts coming in September.

Actually a sub-series of a reoccurring series. Ooh! Self referential! 

For the month of September the entries for my irregularly posted regular feature Campaigns I Have Known will have something of a twist. 

All the posts will feature campaigns I have participated in as a player, and not as a Gamemaster. That's right, I'm going to go into depth on campaigns I have played!

The loose criteria for a campaign to be featured in this series is pretty much the same as that for the regular Campaigns I Have Known. 

-The campaign has to have had a relatively complete run. A beginning, a middle, and an end (even if the ending was vague, a cliffhanger, or the like). I am a little flexible on this, as some campaigns just tapered off in the old days, usually to try a new game. As long as the game didn't end because it fell apart it qualifies.

It has to have been successful, and therefore memorable. That doesn't mean I need to remember every last detail, but it has to have been so good that it stayed with me. More about this below.

[It might be interesting at some point to cover Campaigns I Have Known that failed. Something to consider for the future.]

It has to have been completed before the year 2000. That particular year is really an arbitrary choice. The point is these are older campaigns, from the good ol' days (or some such non-sense). More than a little nostalgia is involved in this endeavor. 

In addition to the regular elements used to describe the various campaigns - System, Circa, Characters, Synopsis, etc. - I will be adding a Player Perspective section. Basically commentary on the campaign from my point of view as a player. 

It will likely turn out to be pretty fun, and interesting, but it's also going to be tricky. I have three campaigns in mind, but beyond that I'm not sure. I haven't been a player in that many successful campaigns. 

As noted in a number of previous posts I haven't been a player very often in my 39 year history in the hobby. I don't enjoy it as much as I do Gamemastering, or at least I haven't traditionally. Part of the reason for this has been a lack of successful outings while on the player's side of the table.

Hopefully, this will turn out to be an exciting journey, and not a very short trip.

We shall see,

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 31

The RPGaDay Challenge for 2016 is over, and I made it! Woohoo!

I actually finished it on time after being so far behind. I'm proud of me. I'm gonna pat me on the back. Good going me. Why thanks me!

OK, let's move on. I'm starting to sound like Kimmy Schmidt over here.

This is a fantastic last question, and it touches upon a number of things I've been thinking about lately.

If I were to give, as my game of choice, Star Trek - be it the FASA version back in 1982, or the later Last Unicorn Games version - I would have to say that, quite honestly, I received no advice.

It was I who was first among my friends to buy the game, and I who ran it. No one gave me any advice, or pointers on how to do so beyond the ideas, suggestions, and the like in the rulebooks themselves.

On the other hand, if my game of choice was Star Wars, the D6 version produced by West End Games, then the answer would be...the same. No one gave me any advice on it as I bought it, and I ran it first.

Villains & Vigilantes? No advice beyond the main book's recommendations, which I have to say included some cool ideas.

Mekton? No advice.

Ars Magica? No advice.

Heck, Dungeons and Dragons?!? Someone showed me the rules, and someone else ran it and I played, but no real advice per se.

No one told me what to do, and/or what not to do when I was first learning to Gamemaster the majority of the games I've ever run. No one.

This may be why my style of gaming, why my approach to GMing, is fundamentally different at its core compared to that of many other GMs. I'm not saying it is so radically different as to be unrecognizable. Nor am I saying it is necessarily superior to the more traditional approaches. There are many, many traditional RPG elements in my games. It's simply that my emphases are on alternate elements of the game when compared to a 'typical' gamer my age. 

Recently, I had an idea for a campaign*, but I couldn't think of a cool system to match the concept. I asked the members of one of my RPG groups on Facebook what they thought would be an appropriate game. The answers didn't surprise me.

The vast majority of people suggested one of several generic systems, including GURPS, Fate, and Savage Worlds.I had specifically noted in the initial post I was trying to avoid Savage World, Cortex. Fate, and other generics. Aside from not being a huge fan of generic systems, I find suggesting a generic system when someone asks what system they should use for a specific idea is basically saying, "I'm not really paying attention to the idea you have in mind. Here, use this thing that pretty much does an adequate job of just about anything."

The second most popular suggestion, since the idea involves a modern day setting, was various crunchy, complex games that weren't bad, but which didn't really grasp the feel I was going for. 

Two fellas, out of the 30 or so posted responses, came up with ideas that were not only distinctly different from everyone else's, but closer to what I had in mind. Two in 30.

So that's who I am. I am the 1 out of 15 GMs doing things a different way. There is no one to give me advice, unless I can find another one in 15 person. Even better, for every 15 people doing things the way I do them, there must be one who is doing things in a fashion more unusually still.

Wow. What a thought. I'd REALLY like to hear what that person has to say.

Barking Alien

* Although I posted what the idea was on Facebook, I am keeping it a secret here for now. I intend it turn into something really special, and once I do I will post it. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 30

Holy Hoober-Bloob Highway! I caught up! 

Huh. Kind of a let down.

Although I've generally felt this year's questions were more interesting than last year's, this question is a rare miss. 

First, I feel like I just answered this with Questions #27, and #29. I know a similar question came up last year. Lastly, I have no answer for this. With an unlimited budget I'd support a robot probe to Europa, fund an animal rescue organization, or a no kill shelter. I don't really have dreams of frivolous spending on a game room. I never have. I can game anywhere, and everywhere, and pretty much have (again, see Day 27).

Give me a table, some chairs, enough lighting to see the character sheets, and the dice, and I'm good to go.

I got nothing.

Last one coming up...

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 29

Only on Earth? Oh. I don't really care then I guess.*

If it was ANYWHERE anywhere I'd say the International Space Station.

I'd love to game in space. 

That'd be sweet.

Barking Alien

*This is probably the weakest question of this years challenge. I mean really, what's this one for?

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 28


If I had a dollar for every pop culture fandom thing my current group of gaming friends haven't seen, I could buy myself a penthouse apartment in New York's swankiest high rise building. I could even afford to use the word swanky without seeming like a total git.

I have one guy in one of my groups who has never watched any of the Star Wars movies in their entirety prior to The Force Awakens. Let that sink in. HE'S NEVER SEEN STAR WARS!

I have people who've never watched a Mecha Anime except for the R-word bastardization of Macross, Southern Cross, and Mospeada .

One guy is completely unfamiliar with Golden, and Silver Age comics, having started with modern ones and never looking back. 

WHAT THE H-E-Double Hockey Sticks?!?

I am 47 years old, and among my favorite things are Golden Age comics, the Marx Brothers, The Twilight Zone, Lost in Space, the early Universal Studios monster movies, and other films of the 1930s, 1940's, and 1950s. I have read the majority of the Land of Oz books, and all of E. E. 'Doc' Smith's Lensman stories.

What do all of these have in common?

They all came out before I was born. I knew about them before I could download them off the internet. 

It's not a question of what I'd be most surprised a friend had not seen.

It's how surprised I am by what so many of my friend haven't seen!

I boggles my mind.

Barking Alien

On a sad note:

We have lost another icon of the entertainment industry's grandest days, especially as they pertain to the venue of comedic film. 

Gene Wilder, gifted comedic stage, and screen actor, screenwriter, director, and author has passed away at the all too young age of 83.

Wilder was best known for his roles as Willy Wonka, in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and his work with Mel Brooks in both Young Frankenstein, and Blazing Saddles. Two of my favorite Wilder films are Silver Streak, and Stir Crazy, both of which have him teamed up with the legendary Richard Pryor.

Rest in peace Gene, and give our love to Gilda.

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 27

This question makes me laugh at the commonly asked, "Describe your perfect gaming set-up/location". 

Seriously you people with your hoity toity custom gaming tables in your fancy pants gaming man-caves are a bunch of spoiled featherweights. 

Is there a most unusual place, or time I've gamed? I'll let you be the judge. Here are some examples of where, and when I've gamed:

On a New York City subway car during rush hour.*
In a public pool.
On a beach.
On a moving school bus.*
While climbing the rocks in NYC's Central Park.
In the hallways, and staircases of my Junior High School and High School*
In my JHS auditorium*
While hiking in Upstate New York, and Canada
In a public atrium on NYC's Upper East Side*
In New Jersey*

*Indicates this was a regular occurrence. 

Buncha Pansies.

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 26

What hobby doesn't go well with RPGs?

I mean, why would you not use what you love in conjunction with each other?

Part of why I love RPGs (a BIG part actually) is that it gives me the chance to use everything, and anything I like in combination to create something truly special. RPGs are the ultimate 'multimedia' works of art. Writing, illustration, reading, research, science, and fandom of all sorts mix to produce the most memorable of campaigns.

I guess I just don't separate my fandoms, and hobbies. To me, it's all integrated. It's not like I'm no longer a Trekkie while building Gundam models. I don't stop collecting faerie folklore books while I'm run Traveller. I may not use everything all together, but all my hobbies apply to each other.

Gundam and spaceship model building, and customizing provides props and minis for Sci-Fi games.

Watching Star Trek shows, while collecting books, toys, etc. benefits my Star Trek games.

Collecting books on faerie folklore contributes ideas for Ars Magica, Faery's Tale Deluxe, and others.

Collecting comic books, and watching Superhero movies, and TV shows goes hand-in-hand with running, and playing Superhero RPGs.

Truth is, I'm just scratching the surface. Other hobbies I have that you may, or may not know about that see their way into my games are cooking, knowledge of coffee, knowledge and care of dogs, general zoology, astronomy, and astrophysics, SETI and exobiology, collecting and reading old Science Fiction books, magazine articles, and art, Anime/Manga, the Muppets, some French cartoons, and comics, and a number that I no longer partake in, but have knowledge of such as fishing (including ice fishing), Winter sports (sledding, tobogganing, ice skating - though I was never good at the last one), and vintage radios.

I can't really answer this question concisely. It is too broad a subject, too open ended. 

To me, if you have a hobby you can't apply to gaming, you are either gaming wrong, or you need a new hobby.

Barking Alien

Monday, August 29, 2016

Happy Little Bluebirds Fly

I do believe I nearly missed the opportunity to wish a dear friend a happy birthday. Well that just won't do. Not at all, not at all. 

Happy Birthday to The Wizard of OZ!

According to my information, the 1939 film was officially released on August 25th, 1939. However, for reasons I haven't yet been able to determine, most of my friends who are celebrating the occasion seem to have posted their well wishes yesterday. 

I am doing it today, as is proper in my opinion, and once again thinking how cool it would be to run a campaign set in the wondrous land of Oz and it's surrounding world once again.

Ah, maybe some day soon.

Barking Alien

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 25

Wow. These get harder as the Challenge goes on, no?

What makes a good, or great character? Not what most players think I'll tell you that.

This is gonna get ranty...

Players nowadays are all about Player Empowerment, or Player Agency, as it is most commonly known. That's great. I am totally behind that. Unless, as often happens, it prevents the game as a whole from working.

In ye olden days, final say on most any matter related to a campaign was that of the GM. This gave the setting, and stories within it, a singular voice, and a unifying vision. Today things gets very muddied, and it's hard to even start a campaign as every player has separate and distinctly different ideas of what the game should be. When these ideas mesh, it's great! When they don't...ugh.

Player Agency is wonderful, but there are usually two, or more players. Ever try to get something done when you need the approval of several different agencies? Time consuming, and difficult. Good luck with that.

That's not really what I want to address though. What I want to talk about is the player that writes a long, drawn out, complex backstory for their character, and it supersedes what is going on in the game. 

I love a player who has thought out their character's background. It gives me, as GM, material to work with. However, if you have produced so much material that it takes me 15 minutes or more to read it, allow me to clue you in on some things...

  • You aren't the only player. Get over yourself.
  • The game isn't about you and your backstory. It's about whatever it's about. That includes you and your backstory of course, but other things are going on.
  • As GM I need to be able to move around, and have things happen. If you make your backstory such that I can't tell the campaign's tale without tripping over yours, loosen that thing up a bit, 'kay?

A lot of players are so into their own characters that they don't get immersed in the campaign. They don't care about 'the game'. They end up playing this separate world that's all about them, but they do it while sitting at the same table as everybody else.

Don't frickin' do that! It frickin' sucks for the other players, and the GM.

Imagine there are two or more players doing that. Yeah. Sucksville.

What makes for a good character you ask?

A solid idea of who the character is, it's motivation for doing WHAT YOU AND THE GROUP (GM included) HAVE DECIDED YOU"LL BE DOING IN THE CAMPAIGN (kill the loner Superhero whose player knows full well there are four other PCs in the group. Please! JOIN THE FREAKIN' TEAM JERKWAD!), and who has proactive ideas on how to accomplish their goals, and those of their group.

Have your character have goals. Have your character have ideals. Have your character have likes, dislikes, friends, and enemies.

Leave room to have, and develop more as you experience the campaign.

Please, dear lord, leave room for more.

Barking Alien

Sunday, August 28, 2016

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 24

Wow. Interesting question.

By way of an answer, allow me to tell you the tale of Nelson, and the Gift of Champions.


When I was in Junior High (what you youngster now call 'Middle School'), and High School, there was a bit of a rivalry between Villains & Vigilantes players and Champions players. It was a very Marvel vs. DC sort of thing. Oddly enough, when Marvel and DC put out games of their own, Marvel went with random character generation (V&V), while DC went with point buy (Champions).*

I was a die-hard V&V guy for years, and so was my friend Nelson M. Nelson eventually migrated to Heroes Unlimited by Palladium Games, but his heart remained in the V&V camp. 

In High School I joined in with William Corpening's Champions campaign, which I've discussed on the blog many times. I was totally hooked, and by the third year of the campaign I wanted a copy of Champions for myself. I wouldn't end up getting my own until the fourth edition hardcover came out, the 'Big Blue Book' as they call it. I was in love.

Nelson all but labelled me a traitor. He refused to look at Champions, soured on it as he was from years earlier. The thing was, I'd know Nelson a while by then. We were really close. So, I bought him a copy of the hardcover - which may I remind you was the most expensive single RPG book product at the time. It was about $35 dollars, while D&D hardcovers were maybe $20 tops. It was also monstrously thick, about that of the first edition, AD&D Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manuals combined. 

Now again, I knew Nelson. I knew that if he received it as a gift he would obligated to read it. It's just a quirk of his nature. A good one I might add.

In the end, he became a fan himself, and ended up running one of the coolest Super Speedsters I've ever seen in a Champions campaign I GMed sometime in the early-to-mid 90s. 

I guess the point I wish to make with this tale is, there isn't any one game I would give to just any person. I would give Nelson Champions. I would give my ex-wife D&D, or Ars Magica. I am hoping to give the Tutoring Center she owns a copy of No Thank You Evil! when it comes out.

The right game, for the right person.

That's what it's all about.

Barking Alien

*I always found it funny that although Marvel was like V&V, and DC (the Mayfair Games version) was like Champions, I was a DC Heroes fan in spite of being a V&V fan.

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 23

I don't have any best 'worst luck' stories. I mean, not of my own. 

I could tell you about the occasionally hilarious bad luck some of my players have had over the years, but that doesn't really do anything for me at this moment. Not in that particular mood today. I simply can't drum up the energy to wind up the humorous pitch needed to get a strike dead center over the funny zone that is home plate.

Luck. The weird double edged sword of table top gaming.

On the one hand, gaming really isn't quite the same without the element of random chance. Some form of randomizer, dice, cards, or whathaveyou, is a key component of the mix that makes gaming so enjoyable IMHO.

At the same time, I hate it when a brilliant idea the player puts forth, is ruined by a bad roll. If the player puts real thought and depth of feeling into an action, why leave it to the arbitrary roll of a piece of plastic?

Hmmm. This entry was intended to be humorous, but has become ponderous instead.

Oh well. That sort of day.

Barking Alien

Saturday, August 27, 2016

RPGaDay Challenge 2016 - Day 22

Ah! Damage Magnets.

Are you all familiar with this phenomenon? Damage Magnets build up in characters run by people who are otherwise very lucky. Have a friend who the dice just seem to love? Rarely fails to hit, or make a difficult skill check? Well, those people are in danger of developing Damage Magnets based on my research.

Let's take my pal Pete H. All of Pete's characters are struck in the left leg. By this I mean, if you roll randomly on a hit location chart, Pete's character will get 'left leg' in nine out of ten rolls. On the tenth roll, he is most likely to get 'right leg'.

Let's say there is no hit location chart per se, and you are just curious, so you roll a D6 and assign it as follows: 1-right arm, 2-left arm, 3-chest, 4-right leg, 5-left leg, 6-head.

It's going to be a 5 on a Pete character more often than not.

My friend Nelson suffers from this phenomenon as well. His is especially lucky, performing incredibly difficult feats with his characters by rolling exactly what he needs even if the difficulty modifiers have been jacked up the wing-wang. It's incredible, but it comes back to bite him in the form of a Damage Magnet in the right shoulder of all his characters.

Let's say there is a group of PCs on the receiving end of some attack that hits with an area of effect condition, or a villain simply fires into the group randomly. Who got hit? You roll to see who the victim is and it's always one of the characters who suffers from Damage Magnets.

Damage Magnets work by compensating for positive probability with equal amounts of negative probability. While the player's PCs may hit their own targets and make their saves all the time, the negative luck builds up to make up the difference, attracting damage points towards their characters.

I have studied this bizarre condition for over thirty years, and seen it in at least a dozen individuals (though some have it worse than others). Find out who they are, and place your PC next to theirs. If a grenade goes off, your PC will likely be fine.Pete's left leg, and Nelson's right shoulder will absorb the damage.

Barking Alien

Thursday, August 25, 2016


One of the most successful and memorable Campaigns I Have Known was a Mekton campaign we set in the long running Japanese IP of Mobile Suit Gundam. While organizing my notes for this post I realized that I've never specifically dedicated a post to Mobile Suit Gundam. That qualifies this post as both a Campaigns I Have Known post, and a Thorough Thursdays post.

If that isn't enough awesomeness, this year August 25th, my 39th Gaming Anniversary, falls on a Thursday making this a triple treat for me.

I am absolutely serious when I say I am almost as big a fan of Mobile Suit Gundam's original Universal Century timeline as I am The Original Series of Star Trek.

How has this not come up before?

It's difficult to imagine that prior to this post I have only referenced Mobile Suit Gundam, the 37 year long (up to this moment) Japanese Science Fiction media franchise created by Yoshiyuki Tomino, and produced by Sunrise/Bandai about a dozen times in the past 8 years. I've never, ever prior to this post, tagged an entry with the Mobile Suit Gundam title.

That's just wrong.

Mobile Suit Gundam now has (like Star Trek, and other popular franchises that have been around for a very long time) numerous versions, parallel universes, and alternate timelines, but the one that matters to me is what is referred to as the Universal Century timeline.

The Universal Century refers to the in-universe way people measure time, having adjusted the traditional calendar sometime after a major space colonization effort went into effect (some point after the year 2000 AD). The One Year War, which is the focus of the first Gundam story, and animated series, occurs in U.C. 0079. Later series move through this future history leaping ahead (The Counterattack of Char film came out in 1988, and is set in U.C. 0093), or filling in gaps in the past (the OVA series Stardust Memory came out in 1991, but tells a story set in U.C. 0083).

The main focus of the story is a war in which the Earth Federation (consisting of the United Nations Earth government, and it's orbital colonies) is in conflict with the Principality of Zeon, the most powerful, and influential of the space colonies. Although smaller, and technically less capable than the Earth Federation, the Zeons gain an advantage by developing humanoid robot war machines called Mobile Suits, and piloting them with the next evolutionary stage of mankind, the Newtype.

Newtypes are Humans born in the perfectly adjusted, controlled environments of the O'Neil style space colonies. Usually, a Newtype is born to people who themselves have been living in the space colony conditions for sometime, and almost certainly if the parents were born there themselves.

In the early series Newtypes display only limited telepathy (though it's rare), and a spatial awareness that makes them incredible pilots, and combatants. Their instinctive understanding of the environment around them also makes them move more naturally in zero gravity than normal Humans. Finally, the best of the Newtypes hone a sort of precognitive ability that allows them to anticipate the actions of those around them. Before you draw your weapon, your Newtype opponent has shot you, as they knew you were going for your gun almost before you did, drew theirs, fired, and are now moving on to someone else.

In addition to the Science Fiction concepts of orbital colonies, psychic powers, and giant robots, Mobile Suit Gundam focuses on the horrors of war, and is in many ways an allegory to creator Tomino's feelings about the Second World War. Common themes of Gundam are honorable bad guys, ruthless 'good guys', lovers, and family separated by being on different sides of the conflict, and the fact that in the end, even victory can fill one with sorrow.

Villian, Hero, Anti-Hero - 
One of the greatest fictional characters in fandom

Char Aznable
The Red Comet

I LOVE Mobile Suit Gundam! No really. I do. I was a fan of it even before I knew what it was. My dad would take me to New York City's Chinatown where I would go to this store that sold Gundam model kits. They were/are plastic kits in the same vein as building a model car, tank, or plane, but they feature the various Mobile Suits from the different Gundam series. I had no idea what I was buying, having never seen the show (in those days it was only in Japan and a few other Asian countries). 

Years later I would work at comic book and toy stores that would carry Gundam kits. Between employee discounts and a very weak Yen, I was able to buy a lot of kits, modify them, paint them, and often resell the finished works. Yes resell. I got very good at it, and even did custom ones on request. I'd keep some, and we (my friends and I) would use them as props/miniatures in our Mekton games.

So it was in 1990-1991 or thereabouts that I got together with a group of friends to run a dedicated Mobile Suit Gundam campaign. I'd run one-shots, and two-parters in the past, but never a complete campaign prior to this one.


Campaigns I Have Know
Proudly Presents...

MEKTON (II - Modified)

Title: Mekton - Mobile Suit Gundam: U.C. 0081: GOD OF WAR

System: Mekton II - Mekton Second Edition (R. Talsorian Games), Modified and House Ruled.

Circa: It had to be 1990-91 based on the fact that I was working at the Forbidden Planet, and which Gundam series were out at the time. In addition to the original series, GOD OF WAR was heavily influenced by War in the Pocket (1989), and the Manga/Visual Story Gundam Sentinel (1987).

There were exactly 12 sessions, each one having its own title, reminiscent of the way Original Video Animation (OVA) series are done in Japan. Each session was roughly 8 hours long. All participants were available for all the 'episodes', and this campaign featured no drop-in guest stars. 

Player Base: Four males, one female, all around age 21. I was also 21 at the time. It was a very interesting mix of ethnicities. Two of the male players were Indian (parents from India, they were born and raised here). One was Filipino (Born in New York). The last was half Black and half Japanese. The female player was Japanese, born and raised in Japan and went to college here in the U.S., returning to Kyoto in the Winter months. 


Ford Cross, EFSF Lieutenant, Pilot, Mission/Squad Leader (played by Alex R.)

Lt. Ford Cross was a career officer of the Earth Federation Space Forces, normally attached to the Magellan Class Battleship Copernicus. Following the 'Burroughs Incident', Lt. Cross is reassigned to the top secret ARES Project. Once transferred to the hidden Earth Federation facility on Mars, Cross is put in charge of the Mobile Suit squadron testing (and protecting) the new prototype Federation Mobile Suit Gundam RX-78-6A*, nicknamed the 'ARES'.

Cross was a very serious, no nonsense type of officer. He took his mission objectives very seriously, and rarely put up with his team's antics for very long (which was a running bit in the game as two of the other pilots were real jokers). Cross served as our source of tactical thinking, our voice of reason, but also the deep, emotional viewpoint when it was revealed toward the end of the series the summary. I don't want to spoil it.

Ford Cross is a physically fit, but slim male of British origin in his late 20s, or early 30s. He is about six feet tall, but appears taller because he is slight of build, and the rest of his team is shorter than he. Cross has light brown/dark blonde hair, and grey-blue eyes. 

Cross initially pilots a GM-C 'Space Type', but upgrades very quickly to a GM-FD 'Desert/Land Combat' variation customized for operation on Mars. Nicknamed the 'Mars Command Custom', this remains Cross' Mobile Suit throughout the majority of the campaign. Eventually the mecha is damaged pretty much beyond repair, and the player spent his PC's many saved up Construction Points** to upgrade to the GM-FP 'GM Striker'. Further modified for both the environment, and the player's specifications, his final suit is referred to as the 'Mars Command Striker Custom'.

Lt. Ford Cross' Mobile Suit Evolution - Left to Right:

RGM-79C Space Type
RGM-79FD Mars Desert Combat Type
RGM-79FP Mars Desert Combat Striker Type

Ran Daisuke, EFSF Pilot, Test Pilot of the Gundam 'ARES' Prototype (played by Raj H.)

Ran is a rookie pilot of some fame, or infamy depending on how you view his situation. During the first action he saw after graduating the Academy, Daisuke deliberately defied orders to retreat in order to save his friend. In the process of doing so, Ran single handedly took out three enemy Mobile Suits - two Zaku Mk. IIs and an officer's Dom. 

In desperate need of talented pilots after The One Year War ended, the EFSF top brass knew they couldn't drum Daisuke out of the service, or court martial him as would have happened in the past. In light of the situation, and show of talent, Daisuke received a milder reprimand than he should have. One particular Admiral took great interest in the young man, and assigned him to the squadron led by Lt. Ford Cross. The initial story was that the disciplined and serious Cross would be a good influence on the cocky and rebellious Ran.

When Cross was reassigned to the ARES Project on Mars, Ran went will him. 
Tragedy strikes Daisuke early in the campaign, when he is seriously injured during the first major combat the Mars Base Squadron has against Zeon spies. It is through this incident that the true nature of ARES is discovered, and Ran is selected to be the test pilot of the Gundam ARES prototype.

Mobile Suit Gundam 'ARES' RX-78-6A
A modification of the Gundam 'Mudrock' RX-78-6

Additional elements and armaments not depicted include:

Chobham Command Armor
Booster Pack 
Additional Thrusters and Verniers

1x 50mw Beam Rifle
2x Beam Sabers
Hyper Bazooka

Experimental Beam Spear

Ran is a good looking, Japanese man in his early 20s, with a runners build. Initially cocky, and a wise guy, he settles down a little after receiving injuries in battle against a Zeon spy in a customized Dom Cannon Mobile Suit. The conflict was mentally, and physically traumatic, as is the follow up operation that saved his life. Eventually, Ran comes back to his old self, as a way of saying 'screw you' to the situation he is in.

Ran begins the game piloting a GM-C 'Space Type', and then switches to a GM-FD like the rest of the team. His GM is totally trashed in the third session, and he is chosen to be the new test pilot for the RX-78-6A 'ARES' Gundam. He remains the ARES pilot until the end of the series, although the mecha gets a number of upgrades a lot the way.

Dana Smart, EFSF Pilot, Mobile Suit Engineering Specialist (played by Rina N.) 

The only female pilot assigned to the Mars Base Squadron, Dana was 'one of the boys' during most of her time serving with the Copernicus, and later the ARES Project. At the same time, she was more seriously minded, with a near obsessive focus on Mobile Suit Design, Construction, and Engineering. Her knowledge of the workings of enemy Mobile Suits provided incredibly valuable intel during several of the campaigns major battles. She was also able to effect field repairs (to some extent) on the Mobile Suits when damaged.

Smart was sarcastic, with a dry, sometimes biting wit. She was very physical, and it wasn't unusual for her to engage in hand-to-hand combat both in, and out of her Mobile Suit. She had a ongoing rivalry/romantic tension with Donovan, but it never advanced beyond flirting, and teasing each other.

Dana is shorter than the rest of the team, a bit stocky, and often seen wearing her hair in a pony tail. She is dressed in engineer's coveralls as often as she is her pilot uniform, or space suit. She has green eyes, and red hair if I recall correctly. Smart is in her mid-20s.

Dana pilots a 'Space Type' GM-C at first, then moves on to the desert combat GM-FD. Smart's suit go through the largest number of custom changes during the series, with modifications for mobility, weaponry, and even armor occurring several times. Unlike the guys, she never actually switches to another Mobile Suit type, sticking with the GM-FD to the very end. Of course, by the end her FD is very different from the out of the showroom specs.

Her suit gets the nickname 'Manhunter', due to Smart's tenacious nature, and the numerous rough, and tumble modifications the GM has. The name is also an in-joke reference to the DC Comics character J'onn J'onzz, The Martian Manhunter. 

RGM-79FDc - Mars Desert Combat Custom
'The Manhunter'

Ward Castro, EFSF Pilot, Sniper, and Long Range Support (played by Matt M.)

The team's comedy relief, and possibly deadliest member, Ward is Ran Daisuke's best friend from the Academy, and the fellow he went back for when ordered to retreat. Ward remains in Daisuke's debt, feeling he can never fully repay Ran for risking his career to save Castro's life. A practical joker, and clown of the highest order, it becomes clear over time that his humor is his mechanism for coping with his job as a soldier. He is the heart of the team as a result, feeling every injury, or death inflicted and sustained very deeply.

Castro is visually patterned after such Anime characters as Ryu/Tiny from Gatchaman/Battle of the Planets, and Tsuyoshi/Hunk from Go Lion/Voltron. He is young, like Ran, and in his early 20s. He is tall, but slouches a little, and is very stocky. While many believe him to be overweight, a great deal of his mass is muscle. While very tough, and having a high endurance, Castro is not an especially skilled hand-to-hand fighter. He is incredibly accurate, and lucky, with long weaponry and as such becomes the team's sniper and long range support specialist. 

Ward starts with a GM-C 'Space Type', and moves on to the GM-FD like the rest, but soon begins a project with Dana Smart to convert his Mobile Suit into a GM-SP 'GM Sniper'. A true GM-SP model is not available at the Mars Base, but using parts for a SP's targeting sensor, and other bits, the two are able to repurpose a GM-FB into a 'Sniper Custom'.

RGM-79FD-SP 'Mars Desert Sniper Custom'

Donovan Ito, EFSF Pilot, Heavy Weapons Specialist (played by Daniel W.)

Of mixed descent, Donovan Ito was a recent transfer to the Copernicus at the start of the series, and was only transferred along with the rest of the team to the ARES Project on Dana's insistence. An Earth Federation loyalist, Donovan was actually born on the orbital colony 'Side 1', also known as Zam. Donovan is a Newtype, and the only one serving with Mars Base.

Donovan is the traditional Western hero, with good looks, a heroic, dedicated, can do attitude. He is less of a joker then Ran, and Ward, although he does share Dana's dry sense of humor. Donovan ignores much of what appears to be wrong about the situation at Mars Base, buying into the idea that the ARES Project is indeed necessary. He feels for his injured comrades, but like his superiors he thinks the ends justify the means. That is, until the end of the campaign, when it becomes clear that the enemy isn't exactly who he thought it was. (See Synopsis).

Donovan has a sister who serves as Chief Sensor Operator on an EFSF ship that brings supplies to the Mars Base a few times during the campaign. She is younger, and he is overprotective of her, especially when Ran, and Ward are around.

Donovan also has an estranged brother who serves with the Zeon Forces. His brother leads an attack on the Mars Base in an attempt to steal or destroy the ARES Project toward the middle and end of the campaign. The two engage in a major fight that requires Dana to assist so that Donovan can land the decisive, and fatal blow.

Donovan is a tan, tall, very well built man of mixed ethnicity in his mid-20s. Unlike the rest of the team (except for Cross) he always wears his uniform to proper standards, makes his bunk, etc. He develops a relationship with Dana, though it is less overtly romantic and more a sort of flirting rivalry. 

Ito pilots a 'Space Type' GM, and then goes to a GM-FD like everyone else. When he gets the chance to go for something more to his liking, it ends up being a modified RGC-80 'GM Cannon'. During the campaign's grand finale Ito pilot a souped up version referred to as the 'GM Cannon Custom'. 

RGC-80 GM Cannon

The custom version had a different side arm, a shield, and a Beam Saber.

Synopsis: It's been roughly two years since the end of The One Year War, and although things have settled down for the average citizen of the Earth Federation and its colonies, the threat of an uprising by terrorist forces sharing the former Principality of Zeon's ideologies remains a constant concern for the United Earth government, and its military.

The EFSF Battleship Copernicus, a Magellan Class vessel refitted to carry Mobile Suits, is assigned to escort duty, watching over the cargo transport Burroughs. According to the information the Copernicus has been provided by the Federation, and the EFSF, the Burroughs is transporting supplies, and equipment to the outer colonies. Part way along their journey, the Burroughs is attacked by a squadron of Mobile Suits baring Zeon iconography, and insignia. The Copernicus intercepts, and their squadron of Mobile Suits, under the command of Lt. Ford Cross, engages the enemy. 

During the battle, the Burroughs is damaged, causing Cross, and Dana Smart to render aid. While the others fend off the attacking 'Neo-Zeons', the Lieutenant and Smart discover that the Burroughs is transporting the damaged remains of a Gundam prototype Mobile Suit. 

Following the battle (in which one or two of the attackers manage to escape), Cross and his team are informed by EFSF Admiral Heinlein Chase that the Burroughs is headed for a secret base on Mars. The Martian base houses the 'ARES Project', which is designing a weapon to help the Federation counter the superior combination of Mobile Suit Technology, and Newtype gifts often displayed by enemy forces. While it is true that the EFSF has Newtypes of their own, and their tech now includes the awesome Gundam series, the enemies of the Federation have far more of both Newtypes, and Mobile Suits at their disposal (or at least they have in the past).

Admiral Heinlein Chase offers Cross and his team the position of being the Mars Base's new defense squadron, charged with defending the base against spies, or overt enemy attacks. The team agrees. Initially the Admiral doesn't want the newly assigned Donovan Ito to be included, but Dana Smart makes a solid case for him, and the Admiral Chase warms up to the idea. Ito is in.

After getting acclimated to the base on Mars, the team sets up it's schedule of patrols, training, etc. On the third day after their arrival, the team is running through a teamwork building practice simulation in their Mobile Suits, when there is an alert at the base. The group returns to find out there are spies, and possible saboteurs skulking around somewhere. 

Following an investigation, the team discovers the spies and gets into hand-to-hand combat with some of them. Meanwhile, the spies have back-up in the form of a group of very tough Mobile Suits on the way to rescue them. The team eventually switches to their own Mobile Suits to battle the enemy ones, and stop the one or two spies who escaped capture. During the giant robot battle, Ran Daisuke is mortally wounded when his opponent's power plant explodes after being hit by one of Ran's attacks. The EFSF forces defeat the rest of the enemy forces, who claim to be part of a pro-Zeon Empire terrorist group.

Now the real purpose of the ARES Project is revealed. The remains of the destroyed RX-78-6 Gundam 'Mudrock' are incorporated into an improved design called the Gundam 'ARES', RX-78-6A. The ARES has cybernetic linkage components that allow a special equipped pilot to interface with the Mobile Suit in an unprecedented way. Unfortunately, that way is through cybernetic implants in the pilot. With his arms, and legs damaged beyond traditional repair, Ran is offered the chance to be the pilot of the ARES, if they can perform the operations needed to give him the bionic parts. Reluctantly he agrees. Cross begins to think there is something deeper going on, but isn't sure what.

The rest of the series was a heavily character driven story delving into the personal relationships of the PCs, the NPCs, and the nature of cold war paranoia. It was of course punctuated by Mobile Suit, and ground battles, and a bit of comedy hijinks to lighten the mood when necessary (this was a pretty dark campaign).

 It is eventually revealed that the power plant explosion that injured Ran was a set up, remotely activated by order of Admiral Chase. The entire 'Neo-Zeon' and 'Zeon Empire Rebellion' was fabricated by him. He is obsessed with the belief that the Zeons will return, and wants to have an ultimate weapon ready when they do. In the last few sessions, the PCs manage to uncover, and reveal Chase's conspiracy, and Cross and Chase have a one-on-one fight with both words and physical blows. It was quite a great scene.

Donovan is the only true casualty of the campaign, dying in a battle against Chase's right hand man, Ito's estranged brother, who turns out to be a Zeon loyalist. The elder Ito believed the lies Chase had told him - promises of a resurrected Zeon Empire ruling over the Sol System. Great fight that ended with both combatants crashing into a mountain on Mars and exploding (Ito used his Mobile Suit with a Jump Jet Pack to launch them both up into the Martian sky and then into the mountain). 

The epilogue featured Cross as a Captain, with Smart as his Lieutenant. Ran is seen retired to civilian life, happily living in a cabin near a river, and fishing. Ward is also retired, and visits his friend Ran, though we don't know more than that about him post campaign.

Donovan is immortalized by a monument and plaque on the Martian mountain, speaking of his bravery and heroism.

Appendix N: The Gundam series that most strongly influenced this campaign, aside from the original, was the OVA series War in the Pocket, and the Manga/Visual Novels Gundam Sentinel.

Additional inspiration came from the Gundam model kits themselves, a number of early Cyberpunk novels, the Cyberpunk 2013 and 2020 RPGs (which like Mekton were also by R. Talsorian Games), and articles on cybernetics and robotics in various Science and Science Fiction magazines.

Bonus Features:

Each of the robots were represented by a plastic model kit I built and painted. When three MS-09K Dom Cannon Mobile Suits appeared in the game there was only one on the table. I didn't build every robot that appeared, but I did build one example of each. 

The kits were 1/144 Scale, making them about 4 1/2-5 inches tall. They were painted with a variety of paints including available paints for metal miniatures. Additional modification and kitbash parts came from different Mobile Suits, broken G.I. Joe, and Zoids toys, and items I found in the streets. 

* One of my favorite expanded universe Gundam robots is the RX-78-6 'Mudrock' (sometimes written Madrock, or Murdock). I decided to convert a RX-78-NT1 'Alex' and an old MSV series kit to build the ARES, which was essentially an upgrade of the Mudrock.

Rina and I dated off and on for a little while. We ended friends but it was hard knowing she had to eventually return to Japan. She was very 'American', with virtually no accent and I always imagined returning to Japan permanently at some point would be hard for her.

This group only existed for this game. I never got to game with any one of the players who participated in this campaign before this, nor ever again. Pity. Great group.

As noted above, each session (referred to as an 'Episode') had its own individual title, something I usually reserve for Star Trek campaigns, but which absolutely fit the Japanese Anime OVA theme. I kept records of the episode titles. They were (in episodic order):

Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
Life on Mars
Little Green Men
The Red Planet
Warlord of Mars
My Favorite Martian
Stranger in a Strange Land
Phobos and Demos
Mars Attacks!
Devil Girl from Mars
War of The Worlds
Requiem for the God of War

OK, whew, long one.

Hope you all enjoyed this. Looking forward to telling more Mecha tales of the future, in the future.

Barking Alien